Gary Taubes is an independent investigator in health policy associated with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In a New York Times article, he resurrected the memory of John Yudkin, a British professor of nutrition and dietetics who spent the 1960s experimenting on animals and humans to find out what sugar does to a mammalian organism. He found that sugar increases the amount of triglycerides (or fat) in the blood, and makes the body produce more insulin. For some reason, “Yudkin” became a synonym for “nut case,” and was applied to anyone who worried about sucrose.
At the same time, the general public received distorted impressions about the findings of certain scientific studies, which Taubes describes:
During the Korean War, pathologists doing autopsies on American soldiers killed in battle noticed that many had significant plaques in their arteries, even those who were still teenagers, while the Koreans killed in battle did not. The atherosclerotic plaques in the Americans were attributed to the fact that they ate high-fat diets and the Koreans ate low-fat. But the Americans were also eating high-sugar diets, while the Koreans, like the Japanese, were not.
In 1970, Keys published the results of a landmark study in nutrition known as the Seven Countries Study. Its results were perceived by the medical community and the wider public as compelling evidence that saturated-fat consumption is the best dietary predictor of heart disease. But sugar consumption in the seven countries studied was almost equally predictive.
In reality, the evidence that convicted dietary fat could apply equally to sugar. But one of the suspected villains was hanged in the town square, while the other stole a horse and rode out of town. Sugar got off scot-free, thanks partly to the persuasive efforts of the public relations departments of corporations that sell sugar-sweetened beverages.
When William Dufty’s book Sugar Blues was published in 1975, it woke up America to the possibility that sugar is dangerously addictive. The civil rights movement was still prominent in the public consciousness, and the author conveyed the impression that even if sugar were not so harmful to health, people should eschew it on ideological grounds alone. Many people were and are horrified by the connection between sugar and slavery.
A 2005 documentary film, Big Sugar (made by a Canadian), picked up that theme and expanded on it. The movie spotlights the sugar industry in Florida, USA, which is all about exploitation and corruption. Apparently it couldn’t run without indentured labor, which is the next worst thing to slavery, and the involvement of a large number of illegal immigrants. No matter how someone feels about the whole immigration issue, this is a concern, because the workers either shouldn’t be here at all, or even if it’s okay for them to be here, they are abominably treated.
Daniel Stefik’s review of Big Sugar notes that the Fanjul brothers, Florida’s fabulously wealthy sugar barons, keep legislators happy by donating to both major political parties. In return, they enjoy yearly government subsidies worth $65 million, none of which reaches the pockets of the oppressed workers, and all of which is extracted from the pockets of taxpayers, i.e., the rest of us.
Meanwhile, the average American is not only paying extra to support sugar barons in luxurious style but suffering the effects of eating 90 pounds of their product per year.
(To be continued…)
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